Thursday, May 26, 2005

More on summer reading and the importance of reading.

The lates issue of the NCTE Inbox came with links to a few more articles on summer reading lists and the importance of reading. Some of them seemed interesting enough to highlight here.

  • Peter Schworm, writing for the Boston Globe, discusses about how reading lists are becoming more diverse. It seems that more and more teachers are substituting the usual blend of dead white males with various authors. Classical, canonical writers like Twain and Hemingway are giving way to contemporary writers like Kingsolver and Morrison. The diversity takes various forms. In some places, some of Shakespeare's works get dropped; in others, they drop Hawthorne and Dickens. Still, in other places, 20th century works like Catcher in the Rye and SlaughterHouse Five get dropped. However, some question the quality of the newer works placed on the lists. According to the article, "in the end, creating a reading list that balances literary merit, personal resonance, and suitable difficulty invariably involves some bias, teachers said." Article provides some commentary on how lists are created and what young readers may prefer.
  • Valerie Strauss writes that the "Odds are Stacked Against Pleasure Reading" in an article for The Washington Post. Sherre Sachar, daughter of Louis Sachar, is tired of reading. She says that getting through required reading lists leaves her no time for pleasure reading. "The extensive required reading in her high school classes -- including Advanced Placement English Literature, where she flew from one classic to another -- left her with no time to pick up books she thought would be fun. And she was frustrated by teachers who offered either too little help in understanding the complex texts or conducted tortured efforts to wring symbolism out of every word." Her father wrote the award winning book Holes. Her story prompts the article. The challenge for teachers is to foster individual reading in an era of standardized testing and tight curricular requirements. Sherre mentions that over Christmas Break, she had to read two hefty novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight's Children. (Readers who know me know that Garcia Marquez's novel is my all time favorite, and I did like Rushdie's novel when I read it for a college course. But I have to say as good as the books are, making them required forced reading over Christmas would ruin the enjoyment of the books for even the best reader. It probably would have ruined it for me if I was in her place.) Another challenge that teachers face is that they often have to select books for reading lists from lists pre-approved by the school district, which often means books that meet certain criteria, namely that will raise no objections. A lot of good books would then be left out as a result. Also, there is a benefit to letting students choose what they read. According to the article, "allowing students to pick their own books is more than a democratic reading experiment. Studies show that reading achievement is significantly improved when students have an opportunity to choose from a selection of interesting texts rather than being dictated to." It is interesting to note that elementary and middle schools are doing a better job at allowing children to choose what to read than high schools. This is according to James Blasingame, an expert on children's literature at the University of Arizona.

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